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I finished up a final exam right before the holidays, it was 10 questions, fully mathematically explained questions, and just after the holidays, I got an email from my professor saying that I am being investigated for cheating and have a meeting with my professor next week.

Apparently the guy I'm being accused of cheating from is a guy that sat in the same row as I did and he had some questions that had NEARLY the exact same text. This guy was my friend, but that's because we entered the classroom and sat in the same row, I had absolutely no plans of cheating,

I don't have that kind of thick skin and would never pull that mess - especially in college. Apparently my friend and I had some similarities between questions that suggested that we cheated, whether it was a collaboration or whether one cheated from another.

The problem is that I have no clue if my friend looked at my paper or was trying to cheat from me but I can be sure that I was not cheating from his work. I was doing my own thing during the exam period. If I get the exact same test with the same questions, I would get about 90-95% of the same answers I did for that final exam if I remember my material still, which I hope I do because I actually studied my best for it.

Anyways, I'm just curious, what exactly should I do when confronted - should I just tell the professor everything I just wrote here - Like what was going on. I'm getting anxiety over the fact that I might fall in to deeper pit if I sound aggressive or say things that might turn against my favor. I am willing to retake the same test in front of the professor on the spot to prove to the professor that I will get more or less the same result. On top of that, the professor allowed everyone to bring in a double sided piece of paper with information about the course on it to help us (like a legal cheat-sheet) during the final exam, and my cheat sheet covered about 9/10 questions on the test. What fricking reason would I have to cheat off of someone else?!

On top of all that, I took 3 different courses last year that pretty much covered 90% of the math course I took this year, and a lot of people didn't take those courses in my field. I took a course that covered probability, another that covered linear algebra and another course that covered proofs, all of which combined to create 9 out of 10 questions from that test. I knew all my material going in. What should I say or do? I don't want to spook the professor in to contacting the dean because this is phase 1 in the scholastic offence book - to contact the student first before deciding anything else to make sure there is enough evidence to continue further. Should I just say everything I wrote here?

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    Am I the only one who finds it weird that you are being asked to meet with the professor directly? I thought universities have academic dishonesty panels to deal with this. At least at my university, any suspected cheating is to be reported and dealt with through proper channels to avoid problems of "he said, she said" and professors choosing favorites... – Sean English Jan 7 '17 at 17:56
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    At my school the instructor is required to meet with the student first before making any formal accusation. The panels come in at a later stage. – Noah Snyder Jan 7 '17 at 18:08
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    Let things take their course, just...don't speak to your professor using the language you used posting this question. – NZKshatriya Jan 7 '17 at 18:19
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    "I'll take the same test - or another test with the same material - right in front of you to prove I know the material and don't need to cheat". Just my 2c but keep the other student out of your reply and keep any sort of negativity about the professor out of your reply. "I know the material and I'll prove it" would be my reply. – WernerCD Jan 7 '17 at 19:14
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    Personally I find it weird that meeting with the professor is found weird. I've taught at several universities and a community college and the first step everywhere I've been is for the instructor to discuss with the students. – tilper Jan 7 '17 at 20:15
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Unfairness and wrong accusations make the blood boil, not just yours. The more it is important that you cool down and stay polite and collected. Now accumulate evidence that supports your case.

The things you write here make a good start.

  1. Bring the "legal cheat sheet" with you and explain that you wouldn't have to cheat in any case with everything that was on there.
  2. document that you took extra courses which covered large parts of the material
  3. offer to give a test (unlikely that they will take it up, but who knows)

The things would demonstrate that you have no incentive, and probably no need to cheat. Of course, you can say "hell" and "sh*t" and "fr*cking" and all these things, but what you need is proof which these pieces of evidence provide. Do you have other indications that support your statement?

What reasons do they have to assume that you copied from him? Is he usually better? Are you usually doing worse? Do you suspect he told them you copied? As Ran asks, did you help the other student? (because that can create a problem, too)

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    This is a great answer. Another piece of evidence that might help are other grades you've gotten in this class: doing exceptionally well in one exam might be suspicious, but if you've been doing well all semester that's less unusual, and also removes some incentive to cheat at all. I'd also like to reiterate that it sounds like you have a solid record and very little reason to cheat: if cheating did take place, it seems unlikely to me that you were responsible, and I think your prof would agree. – Gaurav Jan 7 '17 at 18:54
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    did you help the other student? "That could create a problem" depends on how you help the other student... if he studied with his friend - throughout the course or within the final weeks - and they had the same base knowledge and methods? That's one thing... if he helped the other student by sitting within viewing distance... that's another thing. There are gimmicks to answer some math problems that may not be commonly used. Two of you used it? That's unusual... cheating? Well they studied it together... – WernerCD Jan 7 '17 at 19:17
  • @WernerCD Well, of course, I intended to say "during the exam". The only other "did you help" case that could create a situation like that is if both use the same cheat sheet - but again, that would work in favour of the OP, because then the source of the coincidence would be preparation rather than help during the exam. – Captain Emacs Jan 7 '17 at 22:21
  • @CaptainEmacs Yeah, that's why I mentioned rarely used tricks in mathematics. If 100 students take a test and two students used the same rare method to answer the question? Considering the OP has taken other classes and knew 90% of the material going into the class... For example, if I took a programming class with my brother... I'd show him things 95% of 101 programmers don't/won't know. When we both take the test and use the same advanced features - because I taught him - it might be suspicious. – WernerCD Jan 8 '17 at 2:58
  • @WernerCD happening to sit within viewing distance is not grounds for cheating. If the guy behind you secretly peeks at your paper are you responsible? I would not think so. After all. Prove that you were even aware. Suspicious, sure, but it's not cheating on your fault. The professor should've noticed someone peeking at your paper or at least shouldn't blame you for the incident. – The Great Duck Jan 8 '17 at 3:10
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If you didn't cheat, then you don't need to worry. The professor will probably summon both suspected cheaters to his office in order to understand exactly who cheated and who did not (or, whether or not they collaborated together).

Just talk to the professor and tell him you didn't cheat (not by copying other people's answers nor by letting others copy from you). It is usually easy (for the prof) to learn from this conversation which student knew the material and which student did not. However, the Prof may still wish o verify you did not "help" the other student cheating from you.

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    "If you didn't cheat, then you don't need to worry" - I generally think your answer is measured, but I think this statement may be overoptimistic. OP should collect evidence and have it ready to not forget essential points while being angry. – Captain Emacs Jan 7 '17 at 14:16
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    @CaptainEmacs: just to avoid misinterpretation, the OP should make sure that they do not become angry in this conversation. It is natural to be stressed or even offended by such an accusation, but maintaining a professional attitude will serve them much better than losing their temper. – Tom Church Jan 7 '17 at 16:53
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    It is often that the guy who cheated won't show up. – Akavall Jan 7 '17 at 17:40
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    This answer suggests that the prof is a mind-reader. "It is usually easy...": what planet are you from? The only way for the prof to make progress here is to have both students sit a similar exam under strict supervision. – TonyK Jan 7 '17 at 18:00
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    @Bakuriu: If both students pass, then it's Mission Accomplished, isn't it? – TonyK Jan 7 '17 at 18:05
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tl;dr: Meet with your professor, bring your cheat sheet, keep your cool, don't offer to take another test.


Bear with me, I have a point here. In a course I taught almost 10 years ago I had two suspected cheaters for the final exam. Actually, it was painfully obvious that one (guy) cheated off the other (his girlfriend). Here's why:

  • They sat next to each other.
  • There were two versions of the final exam and they took the same one. They were supposed to take different ones since they were sitting next to each other, and they knew it. (Realistically, this was hard to police because there were just 3 proctors in a room of about 200 students, but IIRC they were the only two who had this little mix-up.)
  • She showed up to almost every class, he missed almost every class. Similarly, her performance throughout the semester was good, his was not.
  • Some of his answers were erased and changed to match hers. (This was a Scantron test.)
  • Some of his scratch work looked way too similar to hers and in some cases didn't make sense with answers he chose. (They had to turn in their scratch work also.)
  • Their final exam grades ended up being almost the same and they matched her overall course performance much more than they matched his.

Here's the thing. Based on all this (and just knowing them from teaching all semester), I knew he copied off of her. I explained the situation to my course coordinator. He agreed. We even called both of them in to talk to us about it, but he couldn't make it since he was already "gone" for vacation. She showed up to talk to us, although it was pretty much pointless. We didn't have any hard, irrefutable evidence, so we had to let it go in the end. We did have enough to pass it up the chain but my coordinator figured it wasn't worth it since they would almost surely get away with it anyway, and our lack of hard evidence meant we could've been wrong (although I'd stake my rep on it that we weren't). Plus he was a very staunch believer in the "let them cheat; it'll catch up with them eventually" philosophy.

My point is it sounds like we had a lot more than your professor does on you and we still had to let it go. Now obviously everybody and every school is different, but I think the point stands that the case against you sounds flimsy at best, especially if you don't have a history of academic dishonesty and if your final exam performance matches your performance throughout the semester. Furthermore, if you guys studied together (which is a reasonable assumption since you're friends) then it's not such a crazy thing that your proofs/explanations are somewhat similar.

Definitely bring your cheat sheet to the meeting to show how useful it was for the test. Of course the prof may not believe you and may say you made it after the fact, but that's on the far end of cynical and I still think bringing the sheet is better than not bringing it.

Also, I understand that you're upset about this but do work hard to keep your cool when meeting with your prof. Maintaining a professional demeanor goes a long way in situations like this.

Finally, do not offer to take a similar test. It proves nothing and can do more harm than good. What if you don't do well on the test for some completely unrelated reason? Your professor likely won't go for it anyway since it would mean s/he'd have to make a new test, and trust me, most of us don't like the idea of doing that for just one or two people.

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    Good answer, but you don't need "hard, irrefutable evidence" to punish someone for cheating - even for a criminal conviction the evidence does not need to be "irrefutable" (nor does it always have to be "hard" - convictions do occur based on circumstantial evidence alone when it is strong enough). For academic misconduct, most US universities use the preponderance of evidence standard of proof, which I think was easily met in the case you are describing. – Dan Romik Jan 7 '17 at 19:50
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    @DanRomik I agree/know that things are as you've described, but I don't necessarily agree with the underlying philosophies. Accusations like this are big ones and if we successfully pursued then it could've destroyed their academic careers. If I'm going down that road then I need to be literally 100% sure, as in, I need to see it happen, even if I can't use the fact that I saw it against them. – tilper Jan 7 '17 at 19:58
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    okay, fair enough, and of course you are entitled to have your own standards for such things. I just thought it was worth mentioning. – Dan Romik Jan 7 '17 at 20:09
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You don't know it is about answers similar to a person that happens to be a friend of yours. If you voice that it makes you look bad.

I got a good grade because I know the material. Here is my cheat sheet - it covers 90% of the exam. I have the following background classes. Exactly what I am being investigated for?

I would not even discuss this with your friend. If you are asked if you discussed this with your friend you want to be able to say no. For sure don't ask your friend if they copied off you. If asked you want to be able to say I don't know.

  • I upvoted because of the last paragraph. Not discussing this with the "friend" is important here. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Jul 6 '18 at 2:31
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You need to explain yourself to the professor as best you can. It would be extremely useful if you can keep your cool during the meeting - try not to become agitated, raise your voice, use impolite language etc. Keeping calm will leave you with the largest amount of mental resources to argue your case, and will minimize the risk of antagonizing the professor (which could lead them to become agitated and start making irrational judgments) and escalating the confrontation.

In addition, you might want to consider asking the professor if you can bring a friend to the meeting - someone whose presence can help reduce your anxiety, and who is well-spoken and can help advocate on your behalf in case you become lost for words or are having difficulty putting your points across during the meeting. At my university students accused of academic dishonesty can ask for a hearing, and they have a right to bring a friend (or in extreme situations even a lawyer, though I wouldn't advise that in your situation), so I think it's likely that the professor will recognize that this is a reasonable request if you ask politely.

Good luck!

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Let's assume that the two exam papers are similar to a degree that is highly unlikely or impossible due to chance. From the professor's point of view, there are two possibilities:

  1. Collusion between the two students.
  2. One student copying without the knowledge of the other.

However, it is difficult for the professor to distinguish between these. Further, if one student is innocent, it is difficult for the professor to know which one.

It is difficult for the professor to resolve these issues through a conversation. Some professors may try, so it is reasonable to have a plan; however in the end an innocent and a guilty student could say the exact same things.

The only truly decisive outcome of such a meeting is a confession. That is what the professor is hoping to achieve. Since you are innocent, you need to persuade your "friend" to confess to copying, AND to say that you did not know about the cheating. If you and this person both give this same story, you may still get out of this mess without any consequence. Point out to your "friend" that a full confession might lead to a reduced punishment.

If your "friend" refuses this request, and denies cheating, then I am afraid it is likely that you will both be punished. As for the nature of the punishment, that depends on the university policy, as well as the professor, as well as the professor's judgement. Taking the test again is a possibility, but by no means assured.

  • Don't agree. What if the friend some says he tried to coerce me to take blame? Stay away. – paparazzo Jan 8 '17 at 0:45
  • If your friend wants to lie, he can say that regardless of what you do or don't do. – vadim123 Jan 10 '17 at 2:03
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    The difference OP honestly say they did not talk to the friend about it. I think they are better off not talking to the friend period. But I still like your answer overall. – paparazzo Jan 10 '17 at 2:06
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J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who headed the technical side of the Manhattan Project during WWW II, talked himself out of a charge of attempted murder of one of his professors while at Cambridge; see Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers (Amazon Kindle ed.). New York, New York: Little, Brown and Company. He did it by AVOIDING confrontation, which is what you must do also. Go in with the attitude that you want to help the professor get to the bottom of the situation. Ask him what you can do to help him solve the problem. Also, you need a knowledgeable friend: Your parents certainly, a lawyer who has worked with the school in similar situations, the Dean, a favorite professor, a school counselor; research it, Google or Bing it. Don't go in unprepared! If the thought of paying a lawyer for help scares you, then think of the consequences if they expel you or even put a cheating charge on your permanent record. This is real; this is a part of your life. Take it seriously. If you enter a field for which there exists professional help, like an illness or DUI homicide charge, then you would seek professional help. Now is no different.

One last thought, remember what the college and its staff want. They want to educate you -- to lead you out into the world of adults with the skills and attitudes to solve problems. In a very real sense, these people earn money in proportion to what their students learn and can use.

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